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Meals Not Books or, Stop Giving Your Staff Leadership Books to Read

Can mega-churches be missional? I learned early when considering this form of question to be sure I understood the difference between can and may. One speaks to ability and the other to permission. Some of you may have seen the conversation several years ago between Ed Stetzer and David Fitch on the subject – Part One and Part Two. Asking the question today may be jumping the shark. The question still turns on what is meant by missional.

Steve Knight recently posted his notes from a talk given by Tony Jones. In Letterman format Steve reported on Jones’ “Ten Myths About the Missional Church.” Number eight, “Missional is a new way to ‘do church.’” People do co-opt the term for pragmatic purposes. So while Tony sees this as a myth, it is still a practice.

Brad Brisco and Lance Ford continue to get the word out about the Sentralized Conference and the ongoing missional conversation from their perspective. I plan to make the trip to Kansas City in September for the event.

Over the past ten years I have had countless conversations with young staff pastors/ministers of large/mega-churches. Knight’s post, the Sentralized Conference, the Missional Manifesto, and these conversations combined to ask the, “Can mega-churches be missional,” question all over again. Add in a recent post by Bill Kinnon on the root of abusive churches and abusive pastors and you may understand why the question is still pertinent. These young staff members describe the lack of cultivated relationships between both staff members and with their Senior pastors – even after several years as part of the team. Read that again.

A person should not draw generalizations from this instance. If Kinnon is correct and relationships in a local congregation are the crux of the matter when it comes to abuse in and by churches and pastors, certainly this is an illustration as to how that happens. Maybe these young staff slots on the organizational chart do not provide regular face time with the Senior Pastor. If so, it is too big.

Some Senior Pastors seem fueled to follow these sorts of relational patterns by attending what Kinnon refers to as Messiah conferences. They are not new. Seldom has anyone couched the events in those terms. The complex is easy to come by when the aspiration is to be the messiah. This is not new.

Some years ago I invited an emerging, not Emerging, denominational leader to consider speaking at our church. We were not big enough. The personal vision of the now significant leader required saying no to invitations he to that point had accepted. The intended, or un-intended, communication was that if your church was bigger, had more influence, and could provide one more place to launch a larger platform it may have been a go. I watch this from a distance today. The distance is size and interest.

Relationships cannot be valuable only insofar as they advance your agenda, platform, or brand. I cannot get conversations with these young staff pastors/ministers out of my mind. The craving is for a connectedness – face time – that gives him or her a sense of shared vision and community. They are not looking for privileged access. That I typed that makes me cringe. What they gets is little different than Facebook. One day the shift will occur where we quit selling ourselves as saviors of the church and as gurus of the grand. We will remember Jesus shared meals not leadership books.

4 Responses to Meals Not Books or, Stop Giving Your Staff Leadership Books to Read

  1. Todd – Perhaps the flip side to this would be to ask the question: “Do I / we really need to hear from this significant leader in the flesh? Or would some other medium suffice?” I bring this up because it made me wonder how Paul would have handled requests to come minister personally to local congregations spread all over the Roman Empire of his day. We know from his writings that this was an issue for him – just one Paul but so much work to be done in so many places (without air transport or high-speed rail). Writing letters seemed to be a key mode of compensating for the constraints on being physically present. Conversely, perhaps some churches decided that they didn’t need Paul to show up in the flesh; perhaps simply disseminating his letters would suffice. Indeed, perhaps at some point someone decided to gather together copies of those letters and bundle them together. :)

    In the Internet age, the alternatives to physical presence are almost limitless. And, if I may say so, our relationship has flourished quite nicely via these alternative channels going on several years. I’ve almost reached the point where I believe you actually exist. :)

    Best.

    • Guy,
      Ah, the flip side. I would shorten the question, “Do I/we really need to hear from this significant leader?” Moving away from Messiah conferences would seem to introduce the notion that a given community finds within its networks that which is necessary to fill out the vision of the Kingdom in a local church context. Said local congregation would then look to/among its own drawing out gifts/talents/experience rather than outsource to others. I realize this is a bit idealistic. Relationships would appear more valued and necessary.

      It seems that the pattern implied in Paul is to invest in his missionary partners such that when requests come in and Paul has to choose how to spread himself, he sends along one among his group and says, “Receive them as you would me.” Maybe this is a self-emptying move that contends he send a little letter but I would suspect the letter carrier would have surely helped illuminate the vision cast in the content/subject of the received letter. That Paul could send a circular letter like Ephesians to the churches in Asia Minor may comport to “disseminating his letters.” And, indeed it seems someone decided to bundle those letters. ;)

      We must address our situatedness in an Internet Age. Alternatives to presence may be almost limitless but there does seem to be a yearning for those in the flesh, interpersonal relationships that create angst among young staff members who feel distanced by simply being handed a book and told, “Go and do thou likewise.” It reminds me of a favorite C.S. Lewis image. In The Abolition of Man, Lewis considers the consequences of the loss of an ethical grounding and the expectations to choose rightly to “bidding the gelding to produce.”

      Surely we have maintained our connection via virtual space. You may believe me to actually exist. But, without our prior shared experiences in real-time, you may not have any idea about my character/person/honor except that I persuade you virtually by giving you the best representation of myself. Which could be a false self created by me in order to impress and gain your friendship and trust. That would be the flip side to the limitless possibilities in an Internet Age.

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